PISD administrators talk highlights of year so far

Head Start Director Judie Forté-Huff discusses her program with the Paris ISD school board. (eParis photo by Jeff Parish)

Head Start Director Judie Forté-Huff discusses her program with the Paris ISD school board. (eParis photo by Jeff Parish)

With the first semester winding down, the year looks to be going well for Paris ISD’s youngest and oldest students alike.

Administrators from Head Start, Paris Junior High, Paris High School and the alternative school discussed the highlights of their campuses with the Paris Independent School District board of trustees Monday. The reports were a second round from of last month’s meeting, when trustees heard from T.G. Givens Early Childhood Center, Justiss Elementary School, Aikin Elementary School and Crockett Intermediate School.

Head Start

“We had, we think, a really good year,” Head Start Director Judie Forté-Huff said.

Head Start served 228 children last year, including 71 from two-parent homes and 148 from single-parent families. Of those, 47 received two years in the program, having started at the age of 3 instead of 4. Transportation was provided for 195 students, 22 received services from the PISD and North Lamar special services departments and 192 received assistance from the program’s social services arm. By the end of the year, 228 had a source of on-going health care and 227 had access to on-going dental care.

The theme for Head Start this year is “Today’s Children…Tomorrow’s Leaders.”

“We have a responsibility to bring these children up in such a way that 20 years from now, 30 years from now, they will fill these seats,” Forté-Huff told the board members.

The program’s main purpose is to prepare children for kindergarten. That includes using a variety of approaches to learning to build language and literacy, cognitive skills, physical development, health, social and emotional development. Each child gets a school readiness plan in September or October, with follow-ups in December, spring and the end of the year.

“Not only do we assess the student, but we assess the family and what their needs are,” Forté-Huff said. “For those one or two years they are with us, we work with the families to get them where they need to be.”

Head Start implemented Family Involvement Starts Here last year. About 80 families met each month for FISH to learn how to teach and promote the same skills at home that were being learned in school. Staff also conducted workshops during the week for a more focused approach.

This year, families were given a backpack with all the supplies they needed to work with their children at home.

That parental involvement also includes getting more men active with their students. Last year, 23 fathers consistently participated in programs designed for men.

“We’ve had to step up our father involvement because mothers are traditionally more involved on campus,” she said. “This year, not only are there fathers involved, but there are grandfathers, uncles and positive male role models. They meet the second Tuesday of every month.”

Head Start boasted 458 program volunteers last year, of which 291 were parents.

According to the federal Classroom Assessment Scoring System used to rate Head Start, the local program is at or above the national average in key areas, including emotional support, classroom organization and instructional support. In fact, the Paris Head Start is in the top 10 percent in the nation, Forté-Huff said. This summer, she became one of a group of Head Start directors who go around the country to train other directors.

Head Start can only serve a limited number of students. Forté-Huff said she would like to see the program expand, but the federal government would have to allot more money for it first.

“I have one who went through the program. She is now in the second grade, and she’s reading on a fourth-grade level,” Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Robert High said. “There’s no doubt in my mind it’s because she went through the Head Start program.”

Paris Junior High School

The theme for Paris Junior High School is #what_I_am_is.

“We want kids to know they’re awesome,” PJH Principal Althea Dixon said.

As with all campuses in PISD, Paris Junior High met the state’s required standard for 212-2013. The school received distinctions in reading/language arts and for being in the top 25 percent in student progress. Dixon said the school made “tremendous gains” in closing the gap in performance among African-American students, increasing from 3 percent to 30 percent.

PJHS met standard on 41 of 43 rated measures. It fell short in social studies among African-American and economically disadvantaged students. In the previous accounting system, that would have been enough to make PJH academically unacceptable, Dixon said, even though students scored better than 80 percent in reading and math for all grades.

Paris Junior High’s robotics team has gotten better each year, Dixon said. PJH earned the “Roar Award” at this year’s competition for imagination, plus best T-shirt.

“We need to find an engineer to come to our campus and sponsor us,” she said. “It’s only a six-week program.”

Many programs have continued from last year, as well, such as the “Pit Crew,” an intervention program for when students fail the six weeks in math. There are also STEM classes, math and science collaboratives, parent involvement initiatives, T-shirts given away as incentives and mentor groups.

“We don’t want to throw anything out because a lot of these things work,” Dixon said.

That’s not to say there aren’t new additions, as well. Paris Junior High added a yearbook class this year. Smart boards have been added to core classes. PJH’s library is open to both parents and students. A new Math Madness program will be held one Saturday each month starting in January. A social studies initiative has been started to help bolster scores. A new character lesson program has also been initiated to address things like bullying, honesty and respect. A new character is taught each six weeks.

Dixon also pointed to new security measures that include a new intercom system, locked doors and the new security officer PISD added at each campus.

It hasn’t been all bright spots, she said. Six faculty members have lost parents, as have several students. PJHS has also lost one student this year.

“For some reason, there seems to be a cloud of death hanging around,” she said. “It’s a sad thing, but I think it’s made our campus grow closer.”

Paris High School

“We’re pretty proud of where we began the year,” Paris High School Principal Gary Preston said.

PHS received four of four possible distinctions in the accountability ratings. The distinctions are based on comparisons with 40 others in a peer group.

“We were ranked number one,” Preston said. “I don’t want to say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ We’re always looking to improve. We’re not perfect. We have many areas to improve, but we will continue to do a lot of things we’ve been doing.”

A school needs a sense of safety and discipline to run smoothly, Preston said. The school has taken steps to help foster that. PHS offers mentoring for male and female students, and Paris High School is looking to build up its Crime Stoppers club.

The high school has a strong communications system with texts, call-outs and Twitter messages, Preston said. The librarian has also implemented a Library 360 program that allows students to check out books for their e-readers.

With U.S. history one of the end of course tests needed to pass, Preston said that course is being moved from the junior year to the freshman.

There are some unknowns still. Graduation plans may change when new state laws go into effect in January. Preston said administrators have a good idea how it will work, but there are some moving variables “that could make it great or not so great.”


The theme for Paris Alternative School for Success this year is “Trying to become better persons each day.”

“We can’t be perfect, but let’s try to be better,” said PASS Director Joan Moore.

The theme came about after hearing motivational speaker Riney Jordan before the start of the school year. PASS followed the example of several other campuses in implementing his daily pledge: “Today, I will do more than I have to. I will treat others as I want to be treated. And I will try to become a better person.”

PASS has staff shirts designed by Misty Chelius with the pledge emblazoned on them.

The alternative school opened with two 12th graders, two 11th graders, seven 10th graders, 17 ninth graders, seven eighth graders, two seventh graders and one sixth grader. The second six weeks saw 22 high school students, 12 middle school students and one elementary school student. This six weeks, PASS has had 15 high school students, six middle school and four elementary.

Walk through the building, and it doesn’t look like PASS has many students, Moore said. The alternative school saw students in all last year and while it probably won’t see that many this year, that does not mean the staff isn’t busy, she said.

“The kids we have, the problems are bigger,” said Moore. “It’s good we don’t have the numbers.”

Earlier this year, students got to go on a field trip to what Moore called “The Land,” property she and her husband own. They saw wild hogs and went on a nature walk to collect leaves. That sparked two days of lessons with hands-on projects using classification systems, library resources and internet research to create leaf collages and write descriptions of leaves and trees. Students also measured the leaves to further describe the plants and even laminated leaves.

PASS has added an internet curriculum called Aventa to enhance elective classes.

The school has adopted a Soldier Angel as a community service project. Their “angel” is Staff Sgt Henry Randle, a man from Louisiana currently serving in Afghanistan. His ex-wife and children live in Colorado. Students and staff regularly send emails, letters, food and packages.

“We boxed up a Christmas tree and sent it to him,” Moore said. “Every single kid has written him a letter. He writes every single kid a letter back.”

Randle is scheduled to return home in March, and he plans to make at least one detour.

“On his way to Louisiana, he wants to come to Paris to meet his PASS family,” Moore said. “We can’t wait to meet Henry.”

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About the Author

Jeff Parish Jeff Parish is a high school English teacher and journalist. He has worked for the Greenville Herald-Banner, Dallas Morning News, The Paris News and Galveston County Daily News, among others. For comments, feedback or suggestions, you can email him at jeff@eparistexas.com.